WE STOPPED in at Gabi’s Smoke Shack, which recently relocated to the spot once occupied by Harold Square in Londonderry.
Gabi’s has been growing in popularity since it first opened in 2011. “We strive to give you a little bit of Texas in every bite of our low-n-slow cooked BBQ, using only the best ingredients,” the website said. We wanted to find out for ourselves.
Proper barbecue requires time for slow cooking — the long process of meats cooked in smokers or over wood fires. Restaurants that barbecue cook the majority of food ahead of time.
Gabi’s is good at pre-preparing food. We had ordered, paid, and barely settled at a table before a server had both dinners at our table — before we had even had a chance to grab some plastic silverware, some BBQ sauce, napkins and other necessities.
My sliced Beef Brisket Plate ($13.99) was served on a paper basket-plate, with the two sides (included) in small plastic bowls. Our next entree, a Pulled Chicken Plate ($10.99 with two sides), was similarly presented.
We went in search of plastic utensils. And the beer I asked for with my meal was missing. Back to the counter, where both clerks were busy on their phones. They then wanted to see the receipt to be sure I had paid for a beer when ordering (perhaps four minutes previously).
Back at the table our collard greens were getting cold; our other side, the mac & cheese, stayed pretty warm.
The sliced brisket was good, but not memorable. It was on the dry side, but some barbecue sauce, both mild and spicy, helped.
Our pulled chicken with a bit of barbecue sauce was better, but my partner at the table remarked that it was kind of “like fast-food barbecue.” We also thought the cole slaw was dry and short on flavor.
The prices are reasonable, and some menu items sound interesting, such as Fried Catfish ($10.99,) and the Dry Rub Pork Ribs (full rack $26.99, half $16.99, both with two sides, which include Cowboy Beans and Mac Salad (small $2.29, medium $4.50, large $8.50).
Sandwiches, smoked wings, tacos (brisket, pork, chicken and catfish) and Brisket Chili were in evidence at other tables where families were dining.
The cornbread at Gabi’s is baked in individual little wrappers a la cupcakes, and it’s tasty. Fresh pats of chilled butter are available at the counter, as are marinated jalapeno peppers in oil with sliced carrots. We had two of those for 25 cents each and they added some dazzle.
We had two entrees, four sides, one soda and one beer (and left a 20 percent tip on one of those computerized systems that collects tips before you eat) and spent a grand total of $39.22.
Gabi’s is comfortable and clean as a whistle, and features about a dozen tables and booths. There is one centrally located large-screen TV for sporting events, and some interesting Houston-based sports memorabilia on the walls.
Fast-casual dining is a concept that when done right — when the food is good — saves on costs and streamlines the process for kitchen, servers and diners.
But to us, “fast-casual” at Gabi’s seemed to be a little too much of both.
We think restaurants need to be first and foremost all about the food. Gabi’s is close, and online reviews have been positive, but in our book the meat seemed to be prepared too early and too fast, and could use more TLC.